The conception of a conclusion and the inception of intent is not always known to us. As we go about the pursuits of our everyday life, we come across a multitude of external stimuli. Then moving towards processing that information, we make several subsequent decisions as and when or if required. Most of the choices we make are a result of the mind-body interaction, and it follows a set of steps. These steps can be broadly classified into- sensory perception, worldly or personal interpretation and (re)action formation. Decisions are made after an intent is formed, each purpose comes from a drive, each drive is analyzed, and each analysis brings forth differing choices.
The acknowledgement of individual perception and the subjective relativism of reality is quintessential in understanding that all of us are fundamentally unique. We think we know what we know is valid only till something else comes along to change and challenge that view. We conveniently discard or ignore the parts of the world that we deem unrelatable or threatening to us. We fight over misunderstandings and makeup over mutual wins. We actively support people who share the same claims as us and readily berate others who cause us discomfort. And in the process of it all, we construct our beliefs, assumptions, judgements, prejudice, biases, inclinations and intuitions. Thus the interpretation of reality as a procedure for daily functioning becomes easily susceptible to personal, social, cultural, economic, political, racial and other existential constructs.
How often do we care to actively think of our presumptions? Question the lens of our worldview, be it regarding that cuisine we’ve never tried or regarding that life we’ve never lived? We view the world through an archival lens of awareness, a lens that is often passed through ancestral history, a lens we break and remake from lived experiences or vicarious events. Inevitably, each one of us develops a variegated sense of reality, one that suits best to ones need, and one that changes as required. Such an imbalanced, distorted and frequently misconstrued perception of reality gives birth to biases in our beliefs, preferences that then easily permeate our thoughts and partially dictate our decisions. Scholars have labelled this failure to think clearly as ‘cognitive errors’- a sort of systematic deviation from optimal, rational and reasonable thinking. The regular part of which comes not just from occasional errors in judgement but rather from routine mistakes and barriers to logic that we stumble upon over time.
One of the most common and controversial biases in the early Indian civilization was that of social stratification, which is also known as varna (system). It divided the society into Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. According to the fourfold division, only the first three sections of society were allowed to read the Vedas and the ones who did not fall under the four categories (due to sin or otherwise) were treated as outcasts. It reinforced the belief that Brahmins were of superior blood and that specific occupations are particular to certain classes. Such a socio-cultural bias ingrained through century-old literature and caste has changed over time. Still, it prevails in instances such as the disallowance of inter-caste marriages. One might even infer that it led to racial discrimination and untouchability in the early ages. Thus biases, old or new, personal or social, repeat themselves without necessary logic; becoming subconscious and automatic overtime.
These statements might be recognizable, “but I spent so much time on it”; or “stopping halfway doesn’t feel right”, or “I’ve already invested too much in it, I can’t sell it off”, or you’re probably exercising the sunk cost fallacy. It is when the investment of money, time, effort, or energy towards something seems to overpower the utility of that something, and we still tend to stay with it and carry on with meaningless projects around it. The sense of consistency that it produces delays the painstaking realization of failure, all the while making us feel like its okay to continue with it. This kind of cognitive bias may seem useful but can, in fact, be dangerous. Think of an old washing machine or a troubled relationship, we cannot keep mending something over and over despite the telltale signs of its lost cause. At a certain point in time, it would backfire and hit us heavily. The sunk cost fallacy or the sunk cost effect is also closely related to the loss aversion bias. Loss aversion is a type of a cognitive bias which suggests that the loss of something for an individual is felt twice as powerfully (psychologically) than the pleasure of gaining something. In other words, letting go of an old washing machine or a relationship invokes strong emotions of aversiveness to loss from within. This aversion is implicitly produced due to fear, negative anxiety, or apprehension to change. Both these biases suggest that people tend to stick to what they have unless there is an excellent reason to give it up. And in the process of it, they become somewhat impaired in judgements and end up making fallacious decisions.
Cognitive biases or errors, as the word suggests, comes from cognition, i.e. thinking. They are thinking patterns bundled with irrational and erroneous beliefs, about outcomes, processes, predictions, learning and decision making. There are over 80 recognized cognitive biases, and more are still being discovered. They are not limited to cognition, socio-cultural constructs, or economics, they also extend to other domains of knowledge and learning in the world. So we must pause and reflect on our decisions, think about our judgements and the beliefs that ensue them if we are to mitigate these biases within us. We must raise awareness of our assumptions and conclusions because the interpretation of information is heavily based on our perceptivity, and our perceptivity is heavily based on our presentations.